Paul Batchilder of Georgetown wells up with emotion when he speaks about the experience of his father, Sergeant Lawrence Batchilder, on the day he was wounded in battle - July 25, 1944.
Sgt Batchilder was a member of a replacement regiment for the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, when the battle took place near the small French village of Tilly-sur-Seulles. He was shot by a German sniper in a farmer’s field.
Paul’s voice cracks and he becomes overwhelmed as he relates the details of what happened to his father on that fateful day.
“He lay in a field for over 24 hours, with Germans all around him. They were killing everyone that moved. He laid there and prayed.”
Paul’s daughter, Haley Zavo, explained further that an Allied convoy later showed up and Sgt Batchilder implored its members not to go any further.
“He told them there were snipers in one direction. Some didn’t take heed … and the rest were saved,” Ms Zavo said.
The ones who did move on were soon ambushed by the Germans.
That day is said to be one of the bloodiest days for the North Nova Scotia Highlanders during the Second World War, with 362 soldiers killed and 840 injured. Sgt Batchilder was among the survivors, but it came with a cost.
He suffered nerve damage to his left shoulder as a result of being shot, and also suffered temporary blindness and deafness. He eventually ended up at a military hospital in Southampton, England before being repatriated to Canada.
After the war, the conflict’s effects remained.
Paul recalls that his father was a heavy drinker, in the days when people were not fully aware of the concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it affects people. And it wasn’t just Paul’s father who was affected.
“We never realized the drinking was caused by trauma,” Paul said.
“I don’t know any of them (other soldiers) that didn’t drink heavily.”
Living in Georgetown after the war, Sgt Batchilder worked in the local jail for a number of years, followed by a stint as Commissionaire at Province House. He passed away in 1966 at just 56-years of age.
While the Batchilder family knew “bits and pieces” of Sgt Batchilder’s wartime exploits, it was only within the last year or so that some of the aforementioned specifics were learned by the family. That discovery began when Paul’s son Andy became aware of some documents Paul had from Veterans Affairs containing Sgt Batchilder’s service records.
Andy’s grandfather died before he was born, but he was aware of some general details of Sgt Batchilder’s stint overseas.
“Grandma said when he got wounded, he lay in a field all day,” Andy said, adding, however, that when it came to specific details, his grandfather apparently “never really talked about it.”
A history buff, Andy poured over the documents, which provided sufficient tantalizing information for him to do even more research in the hopes of filling in the blanks of his grandfather’s story. Andy, who lives in Prospect, Nova Scotia, came across a book called No Retreating Footsteps, which depicted the story of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders.
That book, written by Will R Bird in 1954, was so rare Andy couldn’t even check it out of the Halifax-area library, and had to read it on-site. It included a passage mentioning Sgt Batchilder by name and the fact he was lying wounded in that farmers’ field, and later telling a convoy of six gun carriers that three German tanks were hiding behind buildings in the village.
“He told them, ‘don’t go there, it would be suicide.’ Three (of the carriers) didn’t listen and they got wiped out,” Andy said.
This new information was more than enough encouragement for both Andy and Paul to go overseas and see the location with their own eyes.
“He was moved,” Andy said of his father. “I was dealing with the logistics of the trip … it wasn’t until a couple of weeks at home when I had time to reflect - when I got the full effect of it.”
And now the story of Sgt Batchilder, and the story of Paul and Andy’s retracing of the Veteran’s steps, will be told on stage at the Kings Playhouse, November 9 at 7:30 pm. The play, entitled At the Dog Leg Turn of the Road, was written by Sgt Batchilder’s granddaughter Melissa Batchilder, who currently lives in the United States.
The play is a one-man show, with well-known Island actor Hank Stinson playing the role of Paul Batchilder as he speaks about life with his father and the discovery of the full story of what happened in that field in 1944. The multimedia event will include video, audio and photographs while Ms Zavo and Sheila MacKenzie will provide musical accompaniment.
“I think it’s great that this story will come out, it’s a great benefit for the whole family,” Paul said.
Ms Zavo said while this is a very personal story for the Batchilder family, it is also something that many families who had relatives in the war will relate to.
“An important aspect of our culture is to find ways to tell stories and to keep them alive,” she said. “To discover 75 years later, what he went through, is really powerful.”
Admission to the play is $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and $10 for former and current members of the military. Proceeds will go toward Brave and Broken, an organization that offers support to Veterans and First Responders.
The Batchilder family has a long history of serving their country.
Master Warrant Officer (Ret’d) 30 years Chris Batchilder (Andy Batchilder’s brother who now works at Veterans Affairs Canada serving veterans)
Warrant Officer Alana MacGillivray (sister 30+ years and currently serving in Nigeria). Her husband, Chris MacGillivray Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class (Ret’d) and Private Daniel Either, Alana’s son.
Andy Batchilder, Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class, 30+ years.